The hammering and lathing steps of the cymbal manufacturing process are crucial to shaping the overall sound profile of a cymbal. Understanding how these processes change the physical and sonic properties of an unfinished cymbal is important for any drummer looking to attain a deeper understanding of how their gear works.
Once a cymbal has its bell and center hole stamped, it undergoes a hammering process by which its general profile is formed. When a cymbal is hammered, its metal is compressed outward; depending on the pattern and intensity of the hammering, a cymbal can have a steeper or flatter profile (as a general rule, a steeper profile produces a higher pitch).
Hammering also adds tension and stress to a cymbal’s physical structure. The distortions on the surface of a cymbal caused by hammer strikes add tonal complexity to a cymbal’s overall sound; larger hammer marks cause greater disruptions of sound waves, lending to a trashier and darker sound. Hammering can be done either by a machine or by hand. Hand-hammered cymbals are especially unique in that no two cymbals receive exactly the same hammering pattern, meaning that each cymbal is its own unique instrument.
Once sufficiently hammered, a cymbal is then taken to a lathe where its tonal grooves are cut. Lathing these grooves serves to focus a cymbal’s sound by providing a channel through which sound waves can radiate outward. Generally speaking, tighter, more concentric grooves result in a more focused, direct sound.
It is at this stage of the production process when a cymbal receives its taper. Taper is the change in thickness from the bell to the edge of a cymbal. Because lathing removes physical mass from a cymbal, this step is crucial for determining the degree of attack and wash that a cymbal will have. For example, crash cymbals tend to be thinner at their edges in order to be more explosive.
Understanding how hammering and lathing impact a cymbal’s tone is important for any drummer looking to add a new sound to their setup. This fundamental knowledge can allow anyone shopping for cymbals to estimate how a cymbal might sound just by observing the hammering patterns and tonal grooves visible on a cymbal. Keep in mind that these are not hard and fast rules, but just general concepts to help guide your decision-making when picking out a new cymbal.
This post is “Part Four” of our educational series on cymbals. In previous posts, drums specialist Paul Spencer discusses the anatomy of the cymbal, the alloys that go into making cymbals, and the differences between cast and sheet metal cymbals.